52. Please Like Me! The Necessary Evil of Instagram in Beer
Why it's a bummer Instagram is as good as it gets for accessible promotion and communication; completely predictable but still infuriating brewery owner behavior; tarot for being a bit of a hermit.
Hashtagging Into the Void
Back in 2014 when I was still fully immersed in the world of fashion, I wrote a piece for i-D on Instagram’s negative impact on the industry. The article is no longer there, but here’s a response piece to it—it’s one of the more polite examples; folks, I got read for filth for writing this story.
I still feel like I took a even, democratic approach to my argument. I truly did see many ways Instagram was great for fashion. It acted as a great democratizer, the likes of which had never been seen in such a famously elitist industry. Instagram provided access—level, low-barrier-of-entry access—to a world that was previously off limits if you weren’t a socialite or didn’t hold a title at a glossy magazine (so, also basically a socialite, as few others could afford to work for that pay or could secure such jobs without family ties). However, as this new iteration of fashion evolved and more people got on the Instagram train, then that too became tainted. Again, it was privileged people, usually white, who had the means to devote all their time to try to become an influencer, and who could live off of free handbags instead of actual money. These people were rewarded with stuff and with access, and so a new exclusive cycle formed. And there were more effects, too, ones like we’ve seen play out in food, where brands feel pressure to create things solely for the ‘Gram and not much else. Once fickle followers moved on to the next trend, brands got left in the dust.
I could go on and on, but let me get to the point that’s actually relevant to this newsletter, which you probably see coming here: Is Instagram also…not bad for, but a less than ideal, let’s say partner for craft beer?
In terms of something going from being a great democratizer to something that stifles creativity and dictates what brands live and die based off of fickle clicks, I think a more clear line can be drawn between fashion + Instagram and craft beer + Untappd. The reason for my mealy-mouthed wording of the question above is that I in no way think Instagram is bad for beer. I think it’s great. It’s community. It’s access. It’s free marketing. But. I think issues within Instagram like toxicity and the app’s own infuriating algorithm and restrictions have complicated that once clear winning strategy, and so I’m starting to think it’s a real shame that this is as good as it gets when it comes to breweries and brands trying to reach a wide audience.
Let’s start with the conflict between the community Instagram offers and the toxicity it promises, because that’s what I think is most relatable whether you’re on the app as a brewery, an influencer, or just a person who wants to look at what people are drinking and post your own gloriously clear pilsners.
The driving force behind misogyny, racism, and homophobia in the craft beer industry is at work on social media, too, naturally. A lot of straight white men think craft beer is theirs. These particular men don’t want to share, and don’t like seeing craft beer in the hands of other people. And they really don’t like it when you want to talk about diversity, or equity, or inclusion, or problematic workplaces in beer, or discrimination, or sexism, etc. They think basic human rights are “too political,” and they also do not want politics in beer. We’ve talked about this. The issue here is that if you are a person just trying to find a little community on Instagram and share what beer you’re digging, woops, you’ve already opened yourself up to piece-of-shit trolls. If you choose to speak about issues in your posts, well, now, you’re really in for it. Look, I’m a grown-up and I get it. I get that by just existing in the world, even pre-social media, there’s always the possibility (likelihood) of running into a racist asshole or misogynistic dickhead at any given moment. But it sucks how empowered bad actors are on social media, and it also sucks that craft beer invites this kind of behavior more so than some other segments (trust me, I’ve seen bonkers shitty comments on, like, pet posts and fashion posts, too, for example, but men don’t seem to be patrolling for women who are “too pretty” to really like those things or any bullshit like that).
I expect this fuckery on Twitter, a Very Bad Place. But Instagram for some reason feels like it should be less doomscroll-y. I started my beer Instagram for the basic purpose of having a designated place for beer content, and then decided to actively work on growing it because I’m a freelance writer. I’m a freelance writer who would like to one day get a book deal. For better or worse (just kidding, it’s definitely for worse), having a significant social media following is now an essential component of having a writing career. It is not great. It doesn’t have anything to do with, well, writing. But if you want a publisher to take a risk on investing in your book, these days you’ve got to show them you’ve already got a built-in audience. I have yet to figure out how to achieve said “significant” following, and that hill gets harder to climb every day because Instagram’s algorithm, I assume, is constantly tweaked by some animated villain twirling his waxed mustache with one hand and petting his white cat with the other—when both hands aren’t doing the algo tweaking, of course.
We’ll get back to the algorithm thing in a moment. But so in feeling like I have to be on Instagram for my career, I did enjoy the happy accident of stumbling upon community. It might sound crazy to someone less Online and/or who hasn’t yet experienced this, but I actually have made friends on beer Instagram. They are rad, and I’m very grateful to this dirty little Instagram habit for giving me relationships with truly good people who remind me of what’s good about the craft beer scene. I won’t stop going onto Instagram for that very reason; I want to stay connected to that community. But, hoo boy, am I tired of the toxic trolling you have to trudge through to get to your little oasis of community.
That plus the general state of the world these days make it often absolutely exhausting and completely unappealing to actually put effort into posts. It’s increasingly hard to care enough to put an hour of precious time into editing a Reel. There are days I feel like a fool grinning next to a beer can for a post. I used to do pageants when I was little (I never reached a “Toddlers & Tiaras” level of insanity and also I truly loved doing them; let’s keep it moving) and I remember like it was yesterday the feeling of having to hold a big fake smile up on the stage for what felt like hours. If you force a smile that long, the muscles in the sides of your mouth go haywire with exhaustion. Mine would start twitching and shaking. Often, when I pose for a beer post on the same day I, say, read an article about a Sandy Hook denier, that’s what I feel like. My smile is twitching and begging me to let it go.
But I keep on a-posting, because of the community that makes existing on Instagram worth it to me, and because I do genuinely care about spotlighting good breweries, and also, yeah, because I have to for my work. I am trying to get my brand out there in the world, a once straightforward task anyone with a basic understanding of promotion could master which Instagram has now turned an “American Ninja Warrior”-type gauntlet. So, I can’t even imagine dealing with that on the level of a brewery, who much more urgently needs to promote itself to a wide audience on a much bigger scale. Don’t forget, there’s the Rubik’s cube of an algorithm to contend with, and Instagram likes to crack down on posts having to do with alcohol. Seriously, how have we gotten here where this god-forsaken app is the only and best way to reach a lot of people?
Off the top of my head right now, I can think of two businesses—both in food—that shut down because they were small, one- or two-person operations relying solely on Instagram for promotion and customer communication. For a while, that was great—free or close to it, accessible, efficient, and a good match for a scrappy, nimble brand—but then algorithms change and suddenly the same exact kinds of posts that got such high engagement get next to none. What are you supposed to do? The only thing we really know for sure about how Instagram manipulates the way content performs is that you have to be doing Reels, Reels, Reels—but guess what, those are no small amount of work. If you’ve got a small team and smaller budget at your brewery, it’s kind of a big deal (at least in terms of time commitment) to figure out going from photos to attention-grabbing little movies. So much of what was appealing about Instagram before in the sense that it was a free source of promotion, marketing, advertising, and communication, is now really compromised. Of course breweries can still succeed—especially if they already built their followings when high engagement came easier—but it’s less guaranteed and demands more energy, skill, and labor now.
Plus, after all that, Instagram very well might take your posts down, anyway, because they’re about alcohol. Truly, it’s hard to succeed on this platform that was once so evenly accessible to all! At the end of the day, Instagram is better than no Instagram. When it comes to social media in general, once we had no way to reach a lot of people at once and for free; now we do. The benefits, I think, outweigh the frustrations. Being realistic about the need for this kind of promotion and communication means letting go of any curmudgeonly “bah, everything was better before this damned social media” moaning and groaning. Instead, I’m looking forward to newer, better social media—which may be too optimistic of me since these apps will only ever exist for their founders to try to get rich off of…
Basically, it’s great we have a tool like Instagram, but we can still feel frustrated that it’s as good as it gets. It’d be ideal to have an app that doesn’t foster and freely allow abusive trolling and language while it drops the hammer on a brewery’s post about beer, and that wasn’t actively dedicated to constantly changing the way it works so that people trying to post effectively end up reaching no one. I have no answers here, so I guess…I’ll see you later on Instagram.
What’s Happening at Tired Hands Is Everything We Feared—and Knew—Would
I can’t not address what we’ve recently learned about Tired Hands, which is that founder Jean Broillet IV has fully returned to his regular role on-site at the brewery. As per usual, Kate Bernot has excellent reporting on this over at Good Beer Hunting. Reading that coverage as well as Brienne Allan’s latest Instagram stories regarding this has definitely been one of those “absolutely fuck craft beer” moments for me. We were worried there wouldn’t be enough lasting change, that accountability was an empty gesture for so many breweries; we were right.
Broillet completely phoned in what he knew he had to just until people moved onto the next story. “In a since-deleted post from Monday, Jean Broillet wrote that he and his wife and brewery co-founder, Julie Broillet, ‘take personal accountability’ for any of the allegations that may be true,” Michael Tanenbaum wrote for Philly Voice back in May of 2021 when Broillet stepped back from his daily role. Broillet was supposed to get the fuck out of the way, which if a permanent move, maybe could have allowed more people to feel like they could buy Tired Hands beer again, to support the employees (aka the ones who had been mistreated all along) and not Broillet. The only work he was supposed to be doing was propelling cultural changes, instituting DEI measures, overhauling systems for safety. He did none of that—none, as the Good Beer Hunting story lays out, based on anonymous interviews with Tired Hands employees.
That exactly none of this 100% necessary work was done and Broillet just waltzed back into the everyday functions of his title is maddening, and also completely symptomatic of the fact that so many craft beer consumers do not care. This is the toxic hero worship of brewery owners we talk about. This is the obstinate and wrongheaded separation of beer and “politics” we talk about. There are enough people out there fawning over Tired Hands beer that of course Broillet thinks he can just resume operations like nothing happened. We might be over here screaming into the abyss, but there are more than enough people to buy enough beer to keep the brewery lights on, who don’t give a fuck that, like, Tired Hands has no DEI program.
The employees at Tired Hands are in a terrible position. “Toxic workplace” doesn’t even have enough meaning anymore. The person who makes their workplace unsafe and discriminatory, who makes their jobs incredibly difficult and mentally and emotionally unhealthy, he’s back in their faces every day, and he’s not doing anything to improve the situation, and it’s not as easy as just leaving and finding another job, and they have to see constantly that so many people think some beer is more important than their well-being. I hope with the help of the community—of the people in this industry who do care—the Tired Hands staff get resources and other job opportunities and can eventually leave this brewery to wither and die.
This week, I pulled The Hermit.
It’s interesting that The Hermit came up the week after the Eight of Pentacles. That card was about staying the course when it comes to practicing a skill and working toward achievement. The Hermit has climbed that mountain and is reflecting on that dedication and the accomplishments it enabled. Skills have been mastered, goals met. Now, you need a break. After all of that mundane work, even if it led to a transcendent feeling of price and accomplishment, you’re now looking to put everything into perspective. Has meeting your goal(s) affected the person you are, and if so, how? And how will that shape your way forward? How do you want to balance it all, whether your work has paid off in the form of a new career or unlocking some other part of yourself? Your journey to this point has instilled you with wisdom, even when you don’t feel so wise. Trust that you know yourself, even if the purpose of this pause is to get to know more of yourself, and better. Trust that you know your skills, and something about this world. Let that experience and knowledge factor into, too, to the next steps you take in your life.
The Hermit is at a crossroads, and takes their time weighing every option and factor. Think about you, your work, your achievements, what you want in life, what you know about this world, and how that all molds your present and future. And don’t skimp on this period of reflection! While different levels of this are possible for different people, really try to take a real beat. Meditation, long solo walks, therapy—don’t rush through evaluating your life, who you are, and what you want.
Maybe I’m being too on the nose, but how could I not think of Hermit Thrush here? And I felt more validated in that decision upon reading the first line of their “about” page: “To truly understand terroir and wild yeast, a brewer must come to terms with the type of beer that ‘wants to be made’ in their region.” Hermit Thrush did, in a way, what The Hermit tells us to do! They took time to reflect on desired outcomes, the environment, realities, and possibilities before diving in. Cheers to that with a Jolly Abbot Barrel-Aged Sour Barley Wine Ale.
This Week’s Boozy Media Rec
I love a good, proper spritz, but I have also noticed that it’s hard to find something that is not a “spritz” these days when it comes to canned RTD cocktails and wines and such. So, I really enjoyed Amanda Arnold’s “So Everything’s a Spritz Now?” for PUNCH. This piece looks at the trend and how we got here, and compares it to the ‘tini-ification of everything in the 1990s. It also makes what I think is a good and reasonable point, which is that while drinks are supposed to be fun and creative so you don’t want too many rules around everything, there’s also got to be some kind of attention paid to things like “what the hell is a spritz actually” or it’s chaos and any kind of categorization that actually informs consumers disappears.
Ex-BEER-ience of the Week
Saturday was a great beer day. We took a trip upstate to get back to Obercreek Brewing and Industrial Arts Brewing’s Beacon taproom, and for the first time, visit Equilibrium Brewery. All three were hits—Industrial Arts had a fantastic maibock and an equally fantastic ESB on tap, and Equilibrium was even better than I expected, with quite a lovely atmosphere, great food, and great service in addition to the excellent-as-anticipated beer. But I have to give a “favorite” to Obercreek, because I just love their laid-back outdoor seating, the pizza vendor that I’ve been lucky to catch there both times I’ve been, and the tight, simply perfect list of beer options. The Flow Control IPA was a dream; no notes.
Until next week, here’s Darby getting ready for mac-and-cheese at Equilibrium.